Down To Earth (12)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/06/2001

Two stars out of five
Running time: 86 mins

Desperately unfunny comedy vehicle for the undoubted talents of Chris Rock, directed by the brothers behind American Pie.

Comedian Chris Rock plays Lance Barton, a struggling comedian who works as a messenger. One night, after bombing in front of an audience for the umpteenth time, he’s about to be hit by a truck when he’s whisked away to heaven ‘before his time’ by over-zealous angel Mr Keyes (Eugene Levy from American Pie).

Heaven turns out to be an exclusive night-club run by Chazz Palminteri’s angel-cum-wiseguy Mr King, and, realising their mistake, they offer him a deal whereby he can return to Earth as long as it’s in someone else’s body. Given several options, Lance eventually chooses sixty-something white millionaire William Wellington III, motivated only slightly by the opportunity to help Regina King, the girl he’d seen moments before being almost hit by the truck…

From then on it’s the standard body-swap conceit, whereby everyone else sees Wellington as Wellington but the audience (for obvious reasons) sees him as Rock. And this is really the problem with the film, because we’re supposed to believe that King would fall for Rock in Wellington’s body. No matter how many times she coos "There’s something about your eyes" (and she says it a LOT), we still don’t buy it, and the occasional cuts to a glimpse of Wellington’s ‘real’ body do nothing to help matters.

If the plot seems remotely familiar, it might be because Down to Earth is a remake of Heaven Can Wait, a 1978 film starring Warren Beatty that was itself a remake of a 1940s film called Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Here, however, the twist is that it’s a black man in a white body, and while there’s undoubtedly comic potential there, the film fails to really do anything worthwhile with it, other than a few ‘white man rapping’ jokes.

Similarly, both remakes have seen fit to stick to the deeply unsatisfying original ending, which is extremely frustrating and effectively unravels everything the movie has built to at that point.

It’s a mystery why the Weitz brothers chose this to be their follow-up to American Pie, as they must have been inundated with offers. Even more mysterious is where all the laughs went, as this must have looked like a sure thing on paper. It’s not all Rock’s fault – anyone who’s seen Nurse Betty knows he can act – but the truth is he’s much better as an angry character than a romantic lead.

Thus, the only really funny bits in the film (and the only thing saving it from one-star ignominy) are Rock’s stand-up routines, and as a result you end up wishing he’d just stay on stage.

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Content updated: 18/11/2017 15:38

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